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E-M:/ Protect Communities First forest fire strategy urged


While Michigan this year has not seen major fires, the proposal by environmental groups including Sierra Club to direct Forest Service resources towards protecting lives and properties from fire resonates here in our state.  A statement about Michigan's fire issues from the Mackinac Chapter Sierra Club follows the release below.  Anne Woiwode

For Immediate Release: August 21, 2002
Contact: Annie Strickler, (202) 675-2384

Environmental Groups Offer New Vision for Protecting Communities from Fires
Message to the Forest Service is Clear: Protect Communities First

PORTLAND, OR - The Forest Service should redirect its resources to make protecting people and communities from wildfires its top priority, according to a plan released today by a coalition of environmental organizations.  With President George W. Bush visiting the area tomorrow to announce a fire policy framework based on gutting forest safeguards, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, the Oregon Natural Resources Council and other environmental groups proposed a $10 billion plan based on research by Forest Service scientists as a blueprint for the Bush Administration and the Forest Service.

"It's time for bold actions that will defend communities threatened by wildfires.  America needs the Forest Service to make protecting lives and communities from fires its number-one mission," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director.  "By deploying Forest Service resources and manpower to safeguard communities at risk of fire, this plan will save lives, save homes and ultimately save money."

Decades of fire suppression, overlogging and recent years of drought led to this summer's wildfires. In an effort to work cooperatively with the Administration, the Forest Service and local communities, this plan directs that funding and personnel should be focused in Community Protection Zones, so no communities remain at unnecessary risk.

"Smokey had it wrong. You cannot prevent forest fires," said Dr. J. Boone Kauffman of Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. "A century of fire suppression and misguided forest management has left many forests and their surrounding communities at risk. We need to proactively protect and restore our forests -- we can't simply be reactive."

The seven-point plan includes:
       Do the most important work first. Make protection of communities from fires the Forest Service's Number One Priority.
       Provide meaningful funding. This program should be a minimum of five years and funded at $2 billion a year to go directly to fireproofing homes and removing hazardous fuels in the Community Protection Zones.
       Match personnel to work. Shift Forest Service personnel skilled in preparing brush clearing and thinning projects from backcountry, low priority areas to the Community Protection Zones.
       Carry out immediately the vast majority of fuel reduction projects in the Community Protection Zones that raise no significant environmental issues.
       Restore natural fires to have natural forests. Prescribed burns can help to reduce fuel buildup and restore healthy forest habitats.
       Protect our ancient and wild forest from logging and logging roads.
       Stop the attack on forest protection safeguards

"No community deserves to be left at risk of wildfire," Pope added.  "The Forest Service should focus its people and resources on Community Protection Zones, not let them be diverted to lower-priority backcountry projects."

A wide range of environmental groups contributed to the development, ideas and information behind this policy. They include: the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, American Lands, National Forest Protection Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, The Lands Council, National Environmental Trust, US Public Interest Research Group, World Wildlife Fund, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, California Wilderness Coalition, Southwest Forest Alliance, Pacific Biodiversity Institute and others.

For more information please go to http://www.sierraclub.org/logging/fires.asp.


Protect Communities First: A Smart Plan for Michigan's Forests
Statement by Anne Woiwode, Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
August 21, 2002

The Protect Communities First proposal presented today in Portland, Oregon, by Sierra Club and other conservation organizations is exactly in tune with the needs for forest fire management in Michigan's 19 million acres of forestlands*.  The challenge is not to stop all forest fires, which are a natural part of Michigan's forest systems, but to assure that human lives and property are protected from potential fire threats. 

In Michigan, examples of the Forest Service working with environmentalists, timber interests and community leaders to address potential threats to homes and communities demonstrate that Protect Communities First is a workable approach.  Near the town of Luzerne, in the Huron National Forest in Michigan's lower peninsula, a massive blow down of 3000 acres several years ago raised fears of a major fire threat to this community.  Forest Service personnel invited a range of groups concerned about forest management to work with them to design a plan for both protecting the natural assets of these lands, including proposed old growth areas, and for assuring that the severe threat to the town of Luzerne from forest fires in the blowdown could be significantly reduced.  The innovative management plan responded to the concerns and interests of all the groups involved.

The greatest threats of forest fires to Michigan homes and communities, however, come from the ongoing construction of homes in fire prone forest systems, such as jack pines, and the vast number of roads, both legal and illegal, that honeycomb the states forest lands.  Because of fragmented public forest ownerships throughout the state and poor land use laws, private lands are often interspersed with public forestlands, particularly in the lower peninsula. Threats to property and life from forest fires and dramatically increased costs for fighting forest fires to protect property are a direct result of decisions to allow increasing numbers of buildings to be dispersed in fire prone forest lands. 

In addition, the easy road access by vehicles into Michigan's forests is a major, documented source of increased forest fires risks.  Careless actions, from leaving campfires burning to dropping lit cigarettes on the ground to hot catalytic converters setting off brush, all contribute significantly to increasing risks from forest fires in Michigan.

Historically, Michigan is a place where poor forest management practices led to devastating forest fires in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Scars from those horrific fires are still in evidence in parts of the state today.  Sound forest fire management policies demand sound science, not kneejerk responses driven by political pressures.  Protect Communities First offers the best plan for addressing forest fire threats in Michigan today.

 *Michigan has approximately 3 million acres of National Forest lands, 4 million acres of State Forest lands, 2.3 million acres of industrial forest lands, and the remaining forests are in various private and public ownerships.



Anne Woiwode, Staff Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, Michigan 48906
517-484-2372; fax 517-484-3108  anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org
visit the Mackinac Chapter on the web at http://michigan.sierraclub.org